Jalopnik-reader favorite and renowned, former Ferrari owner, Doug Demuro, has recently announced his importing of a 1990, Nissan Skyline from Japan. He has gone through extensive measures to import this rare Japanese sports car and has shared his experiences with us, thus far. So I figured we could just do a quick rehash of just how difficult importing a foreign car can be.
As Doug mentions in his most recent article, there are four different directions to take when importing a car. The first is to bring the car, which undoubtedly does not meet the absurd U.S. standards, into compliance with said preposterous standards. To do so, several of the desired car must be crash tested, emissions tested and if necessary have numerous parts – such as headlights, brake lights, marker lights – replaced with ones that comply. This can be a tedious process and could end up costing several thousands of dollars.
The second direction to take is through what’s called a “Substantially Similar” clause. Basically, if the car you are importing has been sold in America, and the United States government can prove that the car you are importing will comply with our standards, then you are allowed to import it. The issue is that with a car from any other country, aside from maybe Canada, because the engines, as similar as they may be to ones sold in America, were made in another country, they must be tested by the EPA to make sure they pass our emissions. As does the body, if there are any differences in the slightest from the American version, to make sure it passes our crash standards. This can make importing a car under this clause almost impossible, unless you’re importing an exact car we sell here in the States from somewhere with extremely similar regulations, such as Canada.
The third way is the “Show and Display” law, put in place in 1999, brought on by Bill Gates and several other wealthy car collectors. The Show and Display law basically states that very specific cars can be imported without having to jump through all of the aforementioned hoops, under the conditions that the car is used only for, you guessed it, show and display purposes. If you choose this route, you must find a car which is on the list of qualifying S&D cars, you cannot drive it more than 2,500 miles a year and cannot resell it without the approval of the NHTSA. And because the cars on the qualifying list are so insanely rare and expensive, unless you are Bill Gates, this route isn’t really possible.
Lastly, and the easiest of directions, is if the car is 25 years old or more. If the car in question is older than 25 years, it does not need to pass any tests or be subjected to any modifications. The only two little niggles that might get in your way are; 1) If you live in a state which requires it to have specific safety requirements and the car doesn’t. 2) If you live in California, because everything in California is illegal apparently, and the car was made after 1975, it must be subjected to California emissions testing. California seems to take the fun out of everything.
So while importing a car can be a very cool experience, it can also be very expensive, stressful and sometimes impossible. So basically, if you want to import a car, do so with one that is 25 years old or older, and don’t live in California.